Daily short stories dailyshortstory.blog
Case 1. THE ASCOT TRAGEDY
Case 2. THE PRESIDENT OF SAN JACINTO
Mr Fortuned practice case 1 & 2
THE ASCOT TRAGEDY
THAT is what it would have been called in the evening papers if they had known all about it. They did not. They made the most of the mystery, you remember; it was not good for them or you to know that the sequel was a sequel. But there is no reason why the flats should not be joined now.
So let us begin at Ascot on the morning of that Cup Day. One of our fine summers, the course rather yellow, the lawns rather brown, a haze of heat over the distant woodland, and sunshine flaming about the flounces and silk hats. There were already many of both in the Royal Enclosure (it was a year of flounces), and among them, dapper, debonair, everybody’s friend, the youngest middle-aged man in Europe. He, of course, is the Hon. Sidney Lomas, the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, though mistaken by some outsiders for a comic actor of fame. Tripping back from a joke with the stewards, he discovered, sprawling solitary on the end of one of the seats, Mr. Fortune, the adviser of him and all other official and important people when surgery, medicine or kindred sciences can elucidate what is or is not crime. No one looks more prosperous than Reginald Fortune. He is plump and pinkly healthy, he and his tailor treat each other with respect, his countenance has the amiability of a nice boy.
But on this occasion Lomas found fault with him. “Why, Fortune, you’re very pensive. Have you lost the lady of your present affections? Or backed a wrong ’un?”
“Go away. No fellow has a right to be as cool as you look. Go quite away. I feel like the three fellows in the Bible who sang in the furnace. How can you jest, Lomas? I have no affections. I cannot love, to bet I am ashamed. I always win. Half-crowns. Why is the world thus, Lomas?”
“My dear fellow, you’re not yourself. You look quite professional.”
Reggie Fortune groaned. “I am. This place worries me. I am anatomical, ethnological, anthropological.”
“Good Gad,” said Lomas.
“Yes. A distressing place, look at it”; he waved a stick.
The people in the Royal Enclosure were as pleasant to behold as usual. Comely girls and women who had been comely passed in frocks of which many were pretty and few garish; their men were of a blameless, inconspicuous uniformity.
“What is he?” said Reggie Fortune. “I ask you. Look at his feet.”
What Lomas saw was a man dressed like all the rest of them and as well set up, but of a darker complexion. He did not see anything remarkable. “The big fellow?” he said. “He is a little weak at the knee. But what’s the matter with him?”
“Who is he?” said Reggie Fortune.
Lomas shrugged. “Not English, of course. Rather a half-caste colour, isn’t he? From one of the smaller legations, I suppose, Balkan or South American.” He waved a hand to some elegant aliens who were at that moment kissing ladies’ hands with florid grace. “They all come here, you know.”
“I don’t know,” said Reggie Fortune peevishly. “Half-caste? Half what caste? Look at his feet.” Now the man’s feet, well displayed beneath white spats, were large and flat but distinguished by their heels, which stuck out behind extravagantly. “That is the negro heel.”
“My dear Fortune! The fellow is no more a negro than I am,” Lomas protested: and indeed the man’s hair was straight and sleek and he had a good enough nose, and he was far from black.
“The negro or Hamitic heel,” Reggie Fortune drowsily persisted. “I suspect the Hamitic or negro leg. And otherwise up above. And it’s all very distressing, Lomas.”
“An Egyptian or perhaps an Arab: probably a Foreign Office pet,” Lomas consoled him. “That would get him into the Royal Enclosure.”
Lomas was then removed by a duchess and Reggie Fortune tilted his hat still farther over his eyes and pondered whether it would be wise to drink before lunch and was dreamily aware of other people on his seat, an old man darkly tanned and soldierly in the custody of a little woman brilliantly dressed and terribly vivacious. She chattered without a pause, she made eyes, she made affectionate movements and little caresses. The old man though helpless seemed to be thinking of something else. And Reggie Fortune sketched lower and still lower estimates of human nature.
They went away at last when everybody went away to gather in a crowd at the gates and along the railings for the coming of the King. You will please to observe that the time must have been about one o’clock.
Reggie Fortune, one of the few, remained on his seat. He heard the cheering down the course and had sufficient presence of mind to stand up and take off his hat as the distant band began to play. Over the heads of the crowd he saw the red coats of the postilions and a gleam of the grey of the team as the King’s carriage swept round into the enclosure. The rest of the procession passed and the crowd melted away. But one man remained by the railings alone. He was tall and thin and he leaned limply against the railings, one arm hanging over them. After a little while he turned on his heel and fell in a heap.
Two of the green-coated wardens of the gate ran up to him. “Oh, Lord,” Reggie Fortune groaned, “why did I be a doctor?” But before he could get through the flurry of people the man was being carried away.
The gift of Lomas for arriving where he wants to be displayed itself. Lomas slid through the crowd and took his arm, “Stout fellow! Come along. It’s Sir Arthur Dean. Touch of sun, what?”
“Arthur Dean? That’s the Persia man, pundit on the Middle East?”
“That’s the fellow. Getting old, you know. One of the best.”
Into the room where the old man lay came the shouting over the first race. By the door Lomas and an inspector of police talked in low tones, glancing now and then at Reggie, who was busy.
“Merry Man! Merry Man! Merry Man!” the crowd roared outside.
Reggie straightened his bent back and stood looking down at his patient. Lomas came forward. “Anything we can get you, Fortune? Would you like some assistance?”
“You can’t assist him,” said Reggie. “He’s dead.”
“Merry Man!” the crowd triumphed. “Merry Man!”
“Good Gad!” said Lomas. “Poor fellow. One of the best. Well, well, what is it? Heart failure?”
“The heart generally fails when you die,” Reggie mumbled: he still stared down at the body and the wonted benignity of his face was lost in expressionless reserve. “Do you know if he has any people down here?”
“It’s possible. There is a married son. I’ll have him looked for.” Lomas sent his inspector off.
“I saw the old man with a woman just before he died,” Reggie murmured, and Lomas put up his eyeglass.
“Did you though? Very sudden, wasn’t it? And he was all alone when he died.”
“When he fell,” Reggie mumbled the correction. “Yes, highly sudden.”
“What was the cause of death, Fortune?”
“I wonder,” Reggie muttered. He went down on his knees by the body, he looked long and closely into the eyes, he opened the clothes . . . and to the eyes he came back again. Then there was a tap at the door and Lomas having conferred there came back and said, “The son and his wife. I’ll tell them. I suppose they can see the body?”
“They’d better see the body,” said Reggie, and as Lomas went out he began to cover and arrange it. He was laying the right arm by the side when he checked and held it up to the light. On the back of the hand was a tiny drop of blood and a red smear. He looked close and found such a hole as a pin might make.
From the room outside came a woman’s cry, then a deep man’s voice in some agitation, and Lomas opened the door. “This is Mr. Fortune, the surgeon who was with your father at once. Major Dean and Mrs. Dean, Fortune.”
Reggie bowed and studied them. The man was a soldierly fellow, with his father’s keen, wary face. But it was the woman Reggie watched, the woman who was saying, “I was with him only half an hour ago,” and twisting her hands nervously.
“Most of that half-hour he has been dead. Where did you leave him, madam?” Reggie said.
Husband and wife stared at him. “Why, in the Royal Enclosure, of course. In the crowd when the King came. I―I lost him. Somebody spoke to me. Yes, it was Sybil. And I never saw him again.”
Reggie stepped aside from the body. She shuddered and hid her face in her hands. “His eyes―his eyes,” she murmured.
Major Dean blew his nose. “This rather knocks one over,” he said. “What’s the cause of death, sir?”
“Can you help me?” said Reggie.
“I? What do you mean?”
“Nothing wrong with his heart, was there?”
“Never heard of it. He didn’t use doctors. Never was ill.”
Reggie stroked his chin. “I suppose he hadn’t been to an oculist lately?”
“Not he. His eyes were as good as mine. Wonderful good. He used to brag of it. He was rising seventy and no glasses. Good Lord, what’s that got to do with it? I want to know why he died.”
“So do I. And I can’t tell you,” said Reggie.
“What? I say―what? You mean a post-mortem. That’s horrible.”
“My dear Major, it is most distressing,” Lomas purred. “I assure you anything in our power―sympathise with your feelings, quite, quite. But the Coroner would insist, you know; we have no choice.”
“As you were saying,” Reggie chimed in, “we want to know why he died.”
Major Dean drew a long breath. “That’s all right, that’s all right,” he said. “The old dad!” and he came to his father’s side and knelt down, and his wife stood by him, her hand on his shoulder. He looked a moment into the dead face, and closed the eyes and looked long.
From this scene Reggie and Lomas drew back. In the silence they heard the man and woman breathing unsteadily. Lomas sighed his sympathy. Mrs. Dean whispered, “His mouth! Oh, Claude, his mouth!” and with a sudden darting movement wiped away some froth from the pale lips. Then she too knelt and she kissed the brow. Her husband lifted the dead right hand to hold it for a while. And then he reached across to the key chain, took off the keys, slipped them into his pocket and helped his wife to her feet.
Reggie turned a still expressionless face on Lomas. Lomas still exhibited grave official sorrow.
“Well―er―thanks very much for all you’ve done,” Major Dean addressed them both. “You’ve been very kind. We feel that. And if you will let me know as soon as you know anything―rather a relief.”
“Quite, quite.” Lomas held out his hand; Major Dean took it. “Yes, I’m so sorry, but you see we must take charge of everything for the present.” He let the Major’s hand go and still held out his own.
Dean flushed. “What, his keys?”
“Thank you,” said Lomas, and at last received them.
“I was thinking about his papers, you know.”
“I can promise you they’ll be safe.”
“Oh, well, that settles it!” Dean laughed. “You know where to find me,” and he took his wife, who was plainly eager to speak to him, away.
Lomas dandled the keys in his hand. “I wonder what’s in their minds? And what’s in yours, Fortune?”
“Man was murdered,” said Reggie.
Lomas groaned, “I was afraid you had that for me. But surely it’s not possible?”
“It ought not to be,” Reggie admitted. “At a quarter to one he was quite alive, rather bored perhaps, but as fit as me. At a quarter past he was dead. What happened in between?”
“Why, he was in sight the whole time――”
“All among the most respectable people in England. Yet he dies suddenly of asphyxia and heart failure. Why?”
“Well, some obscure heart trouble――” Lomas protested.
“He was in the pink. He never used doctors. You heard them say so. He hadn’t even been to an oculist.”
“A fellow doesn’t always know,” Lomas urged. “There are all sorts of heart weakness.”
“Not this sort.” Reggie shook his head. “And the eyes. Did you see how those two were afraid of his eyes? Your eyes won’t look like that when you die of heart failure. They might if an oculist had put belladonna in ’em to examine you. But there was no oculist. Dilated pupils, foam at the mouth, cold flesh. He was poisoned. It might have been aconitine. But aconitine don’t kill so quick or quite so quiet.”
“What is aconitine?”
“Oh, wolf-bane. Blue-rocket. You can get it from other plants. Only this is too quick. It slew him like prussic acid and much more peacefully. Some alkaloid poison of the aconite family, possibly unclassified. Probably it was put into him by that fresh puncture in his hand while he was packed in the crowd, just a scratch, just a jab with a hollow needle. An easy murder if you could trust your stuff. And when we do the post-mortem we’ll find that everything points to death by a poison we can’t trace.”
“Thanks, so much,” said Lomas. “It is for this we employ experts.”
“Well, the police also must earn their bread. Who is he?”
“He was the great authority on the Middle East. The old Indian civilian long retired. Lately political adviser to the Government of Media. You know all that.”
“Yes. Who wanted him dead?” said Reggie.
“Oh, my dear fellow!” Lomas spread out his hands. “The world is wide.”
“Yes. The world also is very evil. The time also is waxing late. Same like the hymn says. What about those papers son and co. were so keen on?”
Lomas laughed. “If you could believe I have a little intelligence, it would so soothe me. Our people have been warned to take charge of his flat.”
“Active fellow. Let’s go and see what they found.”
It was not much more than an hour before a policeman was letting them into Sir Arthur Dean’s flat in Westminster. An inspector of police led the way to the study. “Anything of interest, Morton?” Lomas said.
“Well, sir, nothing you could call out of the way. When we came, the servants had heard of the death and they were upset. Sir Arthur’s man, he opened the door to me fairly crying. Been with him thirty years, fine old-fashioned fellow, would be talking about his master.”
Lomas and Reggie looked at each other, but the inspector swept on.
“Then in this room, sir, there was Sir Arthur’s executor, Colonel Osbert, getting out papers. I had to tell him that wouldn’t do. Rather stiff he was. He is a military man. Well, sir, I put it to him, orders are orders, and he took it very well. But he let me see pretty plain he didn’t like it. He was quite the gentleman, but he put it to me we had no business in Sir Arthur’s affairs unless we thought there was foul play. Well, of course, I couldn’t answer that. He talked a good deal, fishing, you might say. All he got out of me was that I couldn’t allow anything to be touched. So he said he would take it up with the Commissioner and went off. That’s all, sir.”
“Who is he?” said Reggie.
“His card, sir. Colonel Osbert, late Indian Army.”
“Do you know if he was who he said he was?” Lomas asked.
The inspector was startled. “Well, sir, the servants knew him. Sir Arthur’s man, he let him in, says he’s Sir Arthur’s oldest friend. I had no reason to detain him.”
“That’s all right, Morton,” said Lomas. “Well, what time did you get here?”
“Your message came two o’clock, sir. I should say we were here by a quarter past.”
Lomas nodded and dismissed him. “Quick work,” he said with a cock of his eye at Reggie.
“We can time it all by the King. He drove up the course at ten past one. Till the procession came Sir Arthur was alive. We didn’t pick him up till five minutes after, at the least. No one knew he was dead till you had examined him. No one knew then but me and my men. And yet Colonel Osbert in London knows of the death in time to get round here and get to work on the dead man’s papers before two-fifteen. He knew the man was dead as soon as we did who were looking at the body. Damme, he has very early information.”
“Yes. One to you, Lomas. And a nasty one for Colonel Osbert. Our active and intelligent police force. If you hadn’t been up and doing and sent your bright boys round, Colonel Osbert might have got away with what he wanted. And he wouldn’t have had to explain how he knew too much.”
“When was the poison given? Say between five to one and ten past. At that time the murderer was in the Royal Enclosure. If he had his car waiting handy, could he get here before two-fifteen?”
“Well―if his car was a flier, and there were no flies on his chauffeur and he had luck all the way, I suppose it’s possible. But I don’t believe in it. I should say Osbert didn’t do the job.”
Lomas sprang up and called the inspector. He wanted to know what Colonel Osbert was wearing. Colonel Osbert was in a lounge suit of grey flannel. Lomas sat down again and lit a cigarette. “I’m afraid that will do for an alibi, Fortune,” he sighed. “Your hypothetical murderer was in the Royal Enclosure. Therefore――”
“He was in topper and tails, same like us. The uniform of respectability. Of course, he could have done a change in his car. But I don’t think it. No. Osbert won’t do. But what was he after?”
Lomas stood up and looked round the room. It had the ordinary furniture of an old-fashioned study and in addition several modern steel chests of drawers for filing documents. “Well, he set some value on his papers,” Lomas said.
“Lots of honest toil before you, Lomas, old thing.” Reggie smiled, and while Lomas fell to work with the keys he wandered about picking up a bowl here, a brass tray there. “He kept to his own line,” he remarked. “Everything is Asiatic.”
“You may well say so,” Lomas groaned, frowning over a mass of papers.
But Reggie’s attention was diverted. Somebody had rung the bell and there was talk in the hall. He made out a woman’s voice. “I fancy this is our young friend the daughter-in-law,” he murmured.
Lomas looked up at him. “I had a notion you didn’t take to her, Fortune. Do you want to see her?”
“God forbid,” said Reggie. “She’s thin, Lomas, she’s too thin.”
In a moment or two a discreet tap introduced Inspector Morton. “Mrs. Dean, deceased’s daughter-in-law, sir,” he reported. “Asked to see the man-servant. I saw no objection, me being present. They were both much distressed, sir. She asked him if Colonel Osbert had been here. Seemed upset when she heard he was here before us. Asked if he had taken anything away. The servant told her we weren’t letting anything be touched. That didn’t seem to satisfy her. She said something nasty about the police being always too late. Meant for me, I suppose.”
“I rather fancy it was meant for me,” said Reggie. “It’s a bad business.”
“I don’t think the Colonel got away with anything, sir. He was sitting down to the diary on the table there when we came in.”
“All right.” Lomas waved him away. “Damme, it is a bad business. What am I to do with this, Fortune?” He held up papers in a strange script, papers of all sorts and sizes, some torn and discoloured, some fresh.
Reggie went to look. “Arabic,” he said. “And this is Persian.” He studied them for a while. “A sort of dossier, a lot of evidence about some case or person. Lomas old thing, you’ll have to call in the Foreign Office.”
“Lord, we can translate them ourselves. It’s the mass of it!”
“Yes, lot of light reading. I think I should have a talk to the Foreign Office. Well, that’s your show. Me for the body.”
Lomas lay back in his chair. “What’s in your head?”
“I won’t let anything into my head. There is no evidence. But I’m wondering if we’ll ever get any. It’s a beautiful crime―as a crime. A wicked world, Lomas old thing.”
On the day after, Reggie Fortune came into Lomas’s room at Scotland Yard and shook his head and lit one of Lomas’s largest cigars and fell into a chair. “Unsatisfactory, highly unsatisfactory,” he announced. “I took Harvey down with me. You couldn’t have a better opinion except mine, and he agrees with me.”
“And what do you say?”is
“I say, nothing doing. He had no medical history. There was nothing the matter with the man, yet he died of heart failure and suffocation. That means poisoning by aconitine or a similar alkaloid. But there is no poison in the price list which would in a quarter of an hour kill quietly and without fuss a man in perfect health. I have no doubt a poison was injected into him by that puncture on the hand, but I don’t know what it was. We’ll have some analysis done, of course, but I expect nothing of that. There’ll be no trace.”
“I wouldn’t say that. You remember I thought General Blaker was poisoned. He was mixed up with Asiatics too. There were queer circumstances about the death of that Greek millionaire in Rome two years ago. The world’s old and men have been poisoning each other for five thousand years and science only began to look into it yesterday. There’s a lot of drugs in the world that you can’t buy at the chemist’s.”
“Good Gad,” Lomas protested, “we’re in Scotland Yard, not the Arabian Nights. What you mean is you can’t do anything?”
“Even so. Can you? Who wanted him dead?”
“Nobody but a lunatic. He had no money to leave. He was on the best terms with his son. He was a popular old boy, never had an enemy. He had no secrets―most respectable―lived all his life in public.”
“And yet his son snatched at his keys before he was cold. And his dear old friend Osbert knew of his death before he was dead and made a bee-line for his papers. By the way, what was in his papers?”
Lomas shrugged. “Our fellows are working at ’em.”
“And who is Osbert?”
“Well, you know, he’s coming to see me. He put in his protest to the Commissioner, and they were going to turn him down, of course. But I thought I’d like to listen to Colonel Osbert.”
“Me too,” said Reggie.
“By all means, my dear fellow. But he seems quite genuine. He is the executor. He is an old friend, about the oldest living. Not a spot on his record. Long Indian service.”
“Only son and daughter don’t seem to trust him. Only he also is a bit Asiatic.”
“Oh, my dear Fortune――” Lomas was protesting when Colonel Osbert came.
You will find a hundred men like him on any day in the service clubs. He was small and brown and neat, even dapper, but a trifle stiff in the joints. His manner of speech was a drawl concluding with a bark.
Reggie lay back in his chair and admired the bland fluency with which Lomas said nothing in reply to the parade-ground demands of Colonel Osbert. Colonel Osbert wanted to know (if we may reduce many sentences to one) what Lomas meant by refusing him possession of Sir Arthur Dean’s papers. And Lomas continued to reply that he meant nothing in particular.
“Sudden death at Ascot―in the Royal Enclosure too,” he explained. “That’s very startling and conspicuous. The poor fellow hadn’t been ill, as far as we can learn. Naturally we have to seek for any explanation.”
So at last Osbert came out with: “What, sir, you don’t mean to say, sir―suspect foul play?”
“Oh, my dear Colonel, you wouldn’t suggest that?”
“I, sir? Never entered my head. Poor dear Arthur! A shock, sir. A blow! Getting old, of course, like the rest of us.”
“Ah, had he been failing?” said Reggie sympathetically.
“Well, well, well. We none of us grow younger, sir.” Colonel Osbert shook his head. “But upon my soul, Mr. Lomas, I don’t understand the action of your department.”
“I’m so sorry you should say that,” Lomas sighed. “Now I wonder if you have particular reason for wanting Sir Arthur’s papers at once?”
“My good sir, I am his executor. It’s my duty to take charge of his papers.”
“Quite, quite. Well, they’re all safe, you know. His death must have been a great shock to you, Colonel.”
“Shock, sir? A blow, a blow. Poor dear Arthur!”
“Yes, too bad,” Lomas mourned: and voice and face were all kindly innocence as he babbled on: “I suppose you heard about it from his son?”
Colonel Osbert paused to clear his throat. Colonel Osbert stopped that one. “Major Dean? No, sir. No. Point of fact, I don’t know who the fellow was. Some fellow called me up on the ’phone and told me poor dear Arthur had fallen down dead on the course. Upon my soul, I was knocked over, absolutely knocked over. When I came to myself I rushed round to secure his papers.”
“Why, did you think somebody would be after them?”
“My dear sir!” Colonel Osbert protested. “Really, now really. It was my duty. Arthur was always very strict with his papers. I thought of his wishes.”
“Quite, quite,” Lomas purred, and artless as ever he went on: “Mrs. Dean was round at the flat too.”
“God bless my soul!” said Colonel Osbert.
“I wonder if you could tell me: is there anyone who would have an interest in getting hold of his papers?”
Colonel Osbert again cleared his throat. “I can tell you this, sir. I don’t understand the position of Mrs. Dean and her husband. And I shall be glad, I don’t mind owning, I shall be very glad to have poor dear Arthur’s papers in my hands.”
“Ah, thank you so much,” said Lomas, and with bland adroitness got Colonel Osbert outside the door.
“He’s not such a fool as he looks,” Reggie murmured. “But there’s better brains in it than his, Lomas old thing. A bad business, quite a bad business.”
And then a clerk came in. Lomas read the letter he brought and said: “Good Gad! You’re an offensive person, Fortune. Why did you tell me to go to the Foreign Office? Here is the Foreign Office. Now we shall be in the affair for life. The Foreign Office wants me to see His Excellency Mustapha Firouz.”
“Accompanied by Sindbad the Sailor and Chu Chin Chow?” said Reggie. “Who is he?”
“Oh, he’s quite real. He’s the Median Minister. He―Why what is it now?” The question was to the clerk, who had come back with a card.
“Says he’s anxious to see you immediately, sir. It’s very urgent, and he won’t keep you long.”
“Major Dean,” Lomas read, and lifted an eyebrow.
“Oh rather. Let ’em all come,” said Reggie.
It was Major Dean, and Major Dean ill at ease. He had a difficulty in beginning. He discovered Reggie. “Hallo! I say, can you tell me anything?” he blurted out.
“I can’t,” said Reggie sharply. “I don’t know why your father died,” and Major Dean winced.
“I thought you had something to tell us, Major,” Lomas said.
“Do you believe he was murdered? I’ve a right to ask that.”
“But it’s a very grave suggestion,” Lomas purred. “Do you know of anyone who had a motive for killing your father?”
“It’s this filthy mystery,” the Major cried. “If he was murdered, I suppose he was poisoned. But how?”
“Or why?” said Reggie.
The Major fidgeted. “I dare say he knew too much,” he said. “You know he was the adviser to the Median Government. He had some pretty serious stuff through his hands. I don’t know what. He was always great on official secrecy. But I know he thought it was pretty damning for some one.”
“Ah, thanks very much,” Lomas said.
But the Major seemed unable to go.
“I mean to say, make sure you have all his papers and stick to ’em.”
Lomas and Reggie studied him. “I wonder why you say that?” Lomas asked. “The papers would naturally pass to Colonel Osbert.”
“I know. Osbert was the guv’nor’s best pal, worse luck. I wouldn’t trust him round the corner. That’s what I mean. Now I’ve done it, I suppose”; he gave a grim chuckle. “It is done, anyway”; and he was in a hurry to go.
Reggie stood up and stretched himself. “This is pretty thick,” said he, “and we’ve got His Excellency the Pasha of Nine Tales on the doorstep.”
Into the room was brought a man who made them feel short, a towering man draped in folds of white. Above that flowing raiment rose a majestic head, a head finely proportioned, framed in hair and beard of black strewn with grey. The face was aquiline and bold, but of a singular calm, and the dark eyes were veiled in thought. He bowed to each man twice, sat down and composed his robe about him, and it was long before he spoke. “I thank you for your great courtesy”: each word came alone as if it was hard to him. “I have this to say. He who is gone he was the friend of my people. To him we turned always and he did not fail. In him we had our trust. Now, sir, I must tell you we have our enemies, who are also, as it seems to us, your enemies. Those whom you call the Turks, they would do evil to us which would be evil to you. Of this we had writings in their hands and the hands of those they use. These I gave to him who is gone that he should tell us what we should do. For your ways are not our ways nor your law our law. Now he is gone, and I am troubled lest those papers fall again into the hands of the Turks.”
“Who is it that Your Excellency fears? Can you tell me of any man?” Lomas said.
“I know of none here. For the Turks are not here in the open and this is a great land of many people. Yet in all lands all things can be bought at a price. Even life and death. This only I say. If our papers go to your King and the Ministers of your King it is well and very well. If they are rendered to me that also may be well. But if they go I know not where, I say this is not just.”
“I can promise Your Excellency they will go before the Foreign Office.”
The Median stood up and bowed. “In England I never seek justice in vain,” he said.
And when he was gone, “Good Gad, how little he knows,” said Lomas. “Well, Fortune?” but Reggie only lit a cigar and curled himself up on the sofa. “What I like about you is that you never say I told you so. But you did. It is a Foreign Office touch,” and still Reggie silently smoked. “Why, the thing’s clear enough, isn’t it?”
“Clear?” said Reggie. “Oh Peter! Clear?”
“Well, Sir Arthur had in his hands papers damaging to these blood-and-thunder Young Turks. It occurred to them that if he could die suddenly they might arrange to get the papers into their hands. So Sir Arthur is murdered, and either Osbert the executor or Major Dean the son is bribed to hand over the papers.”
“In the words of the late Tennyson,” said Reggie,
“And if it is so, so it is, you know;
And if it be so, so be it.
But it’s not interesting, Lomas old thing.”
“It would be interesting to hear you find a flaw in it,” said Lomas.
Reggie shook his head. “Nary flaw.”
“For my part,” said Lomas with some heat, “I prefer to understand why a crime was committed. I find it useful. But I am only a policeman.”
“And so say all of us.” Reggie sat up. “Then why talk like a politician? Who did it and how are we going to do him in? That’s our little job.”
“Whoever it was, we’ve bilked him,” said Lomas. “He has got nothing for his pains. The papers will go before the Foreign Office and then back to the Median Legation. A futile crime. I find a good deal of satisfaction in that.”
“You’re easy pleased then.” Reggie’s amiability was passing away. “A futile crime: thanks to the active and intelligent police force. But damn it, the man was murdered.”
“My dear Fortune, can I help it? It’s not the first and it won’t be the last murder in which there is no evidence. You’re pleased to be bitter about it. But you can’t even tell me how the man was murdered. A poison unknown to the twentieth-century expert. No doubt that annoys you. But you needn’t turn and rend me. There is also one more murderer unknown to the twentieth-century policeman. But I can’t make evidence any more than you. We suspect either Osbert or Major Dean had a hand in it. But we don’t know which and we don’t know that either was the murderer. If we could prove that they were mixed up with the Young Turks, if we knew the man they dealt with we should have no case against them. Why, if we could find some Young Turk hireling was in the Royal Enclosure we should have no proof he was the murderer. We couldn’t have,” Lomas shrugged. “Humanly speaking, it’s a case in which there can be no conviction.”
“My only aunt, don’t I know that?” Reggie cried. “And do you remember what the old Caliph said, ‘In England I never seek justice in vain’? Well, that stings, Lomas―humanly speaking.”
“Great heavens, what am I to do? What do you want to do?”
Reggie Fortune looked at him. The benign face of Reggie Fortune was set in hard lines. “There’s something about the voice of a brother’s blood crying from the ground,” he said slowly.
“My dear fellow! Oh, my dear fellow, if you are going to preach,” Lomas protested.
“I’m not. I’m going to tea,” said Reggie Fortune. “Elise has got the trick of some new cakes. They’re somewhat genial.”
They did not meet again till the inquest.
It was horribly hot in court. The newspaper reporters of themselves would have filled, if given adequate space, a larger room. They sat in each other’s pockets and thus yielded places to the general public, represented by a motley collection of those whom the coroner’s officer permitted himself to call Nosey Parkers: frocks which might have come out of a revue chorus beside frocks which would well become a charwoman. And the Hon. Sidney Lomas murmured in the ear of his henchman Superintendent Bell, “I see several people who ought to be hanged, Bell, but no one who will give us the chance.”
Mr. Reginald Fortune, that eminent surgeon, pathologist and what not, called to the witness-box, was languid and visibly bored with the whole affair. He surveyed the court in one weary, dreamy glance and gazed at the coroner as if seeking, but without hope, some reason for his unpleasant existence. Yes, he had seen Sir Arthur immediately after death. He had formed the opinion that Sir Arthur died of asphyxia and heart failure. Yes, heart failure and asphyxia. He was, however, surprised.
From the reporters’ table there was a general look of hungry interest. But one young gentleman who had grown fat in the service of crime breathed heavily in his neighbour’s ear: “Nothing doing: I know old Fortune. This is a wash-out.”
Mr. Fortune had lost interest in his own evidence. He was looking sleepily round the court. The coroner had to recall his wandering mind. “You were surprised, Mr. Fortune?”
“Oh, ah. Well, I couldn’t explain the suddenness of the attack, the symptoms and so forth. So with the assistance of Dr. Harvey I made a further examination. We went into the matter with care and used every known test. There is no evidence to be found that any other factor was present than the natural causes of death.”
“But that does not explain the sudden failure of the heart.”
“I don’t explain it,” said Reggie. “I can’t.”
“Medicine,” said the coroner sagely, “still has its mysteries. We must remember, gentlemen, that Sir Arthur had already completed our allotted span, the Psalmist’s threescore years and ten. I am much obliged to you, Mr. Fortune.”
And after that, as the fat young gentleman complained, there was nothing in it. The jury found that Sir Arthur’s death was from natural causes and that they sympathised with the family. So much for the Ascot mystery. There remains the sequel.
When the court broke up and sought, panting, the open air, “He is neat, sir, isn’t he?” said Lomas’s henchman, Superintendent Bell. “Very adroit, is Mr. Fortune. That couldn’t have been much better done.” And Lomas smiled. It was in each man’s simple heart that the Criminal Investigation Department was well rid of a bad business. They sought Reggie to give him lunch.
But Reggie was already outside; Reggie was strolling, as one for whom time has no meaning, towards the station. He was caught up by the plump young reporter, who would like you to call him a crime specialist. “Well, Mr. Fortune,” he said in his ingratiating way, “good morning. How are you, sir? I say, you have put it across us in the Dean case.”
The crime specialist then had opportunities for psychological study as Mr. Fortune’s expression performed a series of quick changes. But it settled down into bland and amiable surprise. “My dear fellow,” said Mr. Fortune, “how are you? But what’s the trouble? There’s nothing in the Dean case, never was.”
“No, that’s just it. And we were all out for a first-class crime story. After all the talk there’s been, natural causes is pretty paltry.”
Reggie laughed. “Sorry, sorry. We can’t make crimes for you. But why did you talk? There was nothing to talk about.”
“I say, you know, that’s a bit thick,” the crime specialist protested.
“My dear chap,” said Reggie modestly, “if the doctor on the spot hadn’t happened to be me, you would never have thought of the case. Nothing else in it.”
“Oh, well, come now, Mr. Fortune! I mean to say―what about the C.I.D. holding up all the old man’s papers and turning down his executor?”
Reggie was not surprised, he was bewildered. “Say it again slowly and distinctly,” he entreated, and when that was done he was as one who tries not to laugh. “And very nice too. My dear fellow, what more do you want? There’s a story for you.”
“Well, it’s never been officially denied,” said the young man.
“Fancy that!” Reggie chuckled.
“But between ourselves, Mr. Fortune――”
“It’s a great story,” Reggie chuckled. “But really―Well, I ask you!” and he slid away.
In the hotel lounge he found Bell and Lomas and cocktails. “Pleasure before business, as ever,” he reproached them, and ordered one for himself.
“And what have you been doing, then?” Lomas asked.
“I have been consoling the Fourth Estate. That great institution the Press, Mr. Lomas, sir. Through one of Gilligan’s young lions. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings――”
“I wish you wouldn’t talk to reporters,” Lomas complained.
“You’re so haughty. By the way, what was Ludlow Blenkinhorn doing here?” He referred to a solicitor of more ability than standing. “Osbert was here and his solicitor, the young Deans and their solicitor. Who was old Blenkinhorn representing?”
Bell and Lomas looked at each other. “Didn’t see the fellow,” said Lomas.
“Mr. Fortune’s quite right, sir. Blenkinhorn was standing with the public. And that’s odd, too.”
“Highly odd. Lomas, my dear old thing, I wish you’d watch Blenkinhorn’s office and Osbert’s flat for any chaps who look a bit exotic, a bit foreign―and follow him up if you find one.”
Lomas groaned. “Surely we’ve done with the case.”
“Ye-es. But there’s some fellow who hasn’t. And he has a pretty taste in poisons. And he’s still wanting papers.”
“We’ve nothing to act on, you know,” Lomas protested.
“Oh, not a thing, not a thing. But he might have.” Lomas nodded and Superintendent Bell went to the telephone.
When Mr. Fortune read “The Daily Post” in the morning he smiled upon his devilled kidneys. Its report of the inquest was begun with a little pompous descriptive work. “The mystery of the Ascot Tragedy was solved yesterday. In the cold sanity of the coroner’s court the excitement of the last few days received its quietus. Two minutes of scientific evidence from Mr. Fortune―” and so on until young omniscience worked up to its private little scoop. “The melodramatic rumours of sensational developments in the case have thus only availed to expose the fatuity of their inventors.” (This was meant for some rival papers.) “It may now be stated bluntly that nothing in the case ever gave rise to speculation among well-informed people, and that the stories of impounding documents and so forth have no foundation in fact.”
But about lunch time Mr. Fortune received a curt summons from the Hon. Sidney Lomas and instantly obeyed it. “Well, you know, I thought I should be hearing from you,” he smiled. “I felt, as it were, you couldn’t live without me long.”
“Did you, by Jove!” said Lomas bitterly. “I’ve been wishing all the morning you had been dead some time. Look at that!” He tossed across the table a marked copy of “The Daily Post.”
“Yes, I was enjoying that at breakfast. A noble institution, the British Press, Lomas. A great power. If you know how to use it.”
“I wish to God you wouldn’t spoof reporters. It’s a low taste. And it’s a damned nuisance. I can’t contradict the rag and――”
“No, you can’t contradict it. I banked on that,” Reggie chuckled.
“Did you indeed? And pray what the devil are you at? I have had Osbert here raving mad――”
“Yes, I thought it would stir up Osbert. What’s his line?”
“Wants the papers, of course. And as you very well know, confound you, they’re all at the Foreign Office, the cream of them, and likely to be. He says we’ve no right to keep them after this. Nonsense, of course, but devilish inconvenient to answer. And at last the old man was quite pathetic, says it isn’t fair to him to give out we haven’t touched the papers. No more it is. He was begging me to contradict it officially. I could hardly get rid of him.”
“Busy times for Lomas.”
“Damme, I have been at it all the morning. Old Ludlow Blenkinhorn turned up, too.”
“I have clicked, haven’t I?” Reggie chuckled.
“Confound you. He says he has a client with claims on the estate and is informed by the executor that all papers have been taken by us. Now he has read your damned article and he wants to know if the executor is lying.”
“That is a conundrum, isn’t it? And who is Mr. Ludlow Blenkinhorn’s client?”
“He didn’t say, of course.”
“What a surprise. And your fellows watching his office, do they say?”
Lomas took up a scrap of paper. “They have sent us something. A man of foreign or mulatto appearance called on him first thing this morning. Was followed to a Bayswater lodging-house. Is known there as Sherif. Mr. A. Sherif. Thought to be an Egyptian.”
“The negro or Hamitic heel!” Reggie murmured. “Do you remember, Lomas old thing?”
“Good Gad!” Lomas dropped his eyeglass. “But what the devil can we do?”
“Watch and pray,” said Reggie. “Your fellows watch Sherif and Blenkinhorn and Osbert and you pray. Do you pray much, Lomas?”
They went in fact to lunch. They were not long back when a detective speaking over the telephone reported that a man of mulatto appearance had called on Colonel Osbert. Reggie sprang up. “Come on, Lomas. We’ll have them in the act and bluff the whole thing out of them.”
“Collusion. This Egyptian-Syrian-negroid-Young Turk and the respectable executor. Come on, man.”
In five minutes they were mounting to Colonel Osbert’s flat. His servant could not say whether Colonel Osbert was at home. Lomas produced his card. “Colonel Osbert will see me,” he announced, and fixed the man with a glassy stare.
“Well, sir, I beg pardon, sir. There’s a gentleman with him.”
“At once,” said Lomas and walked into the hall.
The man still hesitated. From one of the rooms could be heard voices in some excitement. Lomas and Reggie made for that door. But as they approached there was a cry, a horrible shrill cry, and the sound of a scuffle. Reggie sprang forward. Some one rushed out of the room and Reggie, the smaller man, went down before him. Lomas clutched at him and was kicked in the stomach. The fellow was off. Reggie picked himself out of the hatstand and ran after him. Lomas, in a heap, gasping and hiccoughing, fumbled in his pocket. “B-b-blow,” he stammered to the stupefied servant, and held out a whistle. “Like hell. Blow!”
A long peal sounded through the block of flats.
Down below a solid man strolled out of the porter’s lodge just as a gentleman of dark complexion and large feet was hurrying through the door. The solid man put out a leg. Another solid man outside received the gentleman on his bosom. They had then some strenuous moments. By the time Reggie reached them three hats were on the ground, but a pair of handcuffs clasped the coffee-coloured wrists.
“His pockets,” Reggie panted, “his waistcoat pockets.”
The captive said something which no one understood, and struggled. One of the detectives held out a small white-metal case. Reggie took from it a hypodermic syringe. “I didn’t think you were so up-to-date,” said Reggie. “What did you put in it? Well, well, I suppose you won’t tell me. Take him away.”
He went back to find Lomas and the servant looking at Colonel Osbert. Colonel Osbert lay on the floor. There was froth at his lips and on his wrist a spot of blood. Reggie knelt down beside him. . . .
“Too late?” Lomas said hoarsely.
Reggie rose. “Well, you can put it that way,” he said. “It’s the end.”
In Lomas’s room Reggie spread himself on a sofa and watched Lomas drink whisky and soda. “A ghastly business,” Lomas said: he was still pale and unsteady. “That creature is a wild beast.”
“He’ll go where he belongs,” said Reggie, who was eating bread and butter. “All according to plan.”
“Plan? My God, the man runs amuck!”
“Oh, no, no, no. He wanted those papers for his employers. He contracted with Osbert to hand them over when Dean was dead. He murdered Dean and Osbert couldn’t deliver the goods. So I told him through the papers that Osbert had them. He thought Osbert was bilking him and went to have it out with him. Osbert didn’t satisfy him, he was sure he had been done and he made Osbert pay for it. All according to plan.”
Lomas set down his glass. “Fortune,” he said nervously, “Fortune―do you mean―when you put that in the paper―you meant the thing to end like this?”
“Well, what are we here for?” said Reggie. “But you know you’re forgetting the real interest of the case.”
“Am I?” said Lomas weakly.
“Yes. What is his poison?”
“Oh, good Gad,” said Lomas.